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  • Nick Karner

Argoman the Fantastic Superman (1967)

Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, I frequented my local Alamo Drafthouse quite often. The auditoriums are located on the right and left side of the building once you pass by the VHS tapes and gift shop. This may sound odd, but throughout my life, I always seem to end up in the same screening rooms. This weird reoccurring phenomenon doesn’t apply to arthouses, because most of them have no more than 1-2 screens. Multiplexes, on the other hand, are a different beast. No matter how often I went, I’d always end up in the same handful of theaters. Some would be the biggies, like ones for major new releases, or they’d be the small ones for the occasional indie flick. A few of the theaters I’d drop into had sections I literally never went into. The general design of Carmike Cinemas was particularly strange; with long, windy hallways that would lead to unpopulated areas showing obscure or second-run films. It was a little creepy going to a matinee in those places. I love being the only person in a theater, but getting there was like a journey through a haunted house. At the Alamo, I rarely ever found myself on the other side. It was always Theaters 1-5. It’s particularly fun to check out the bizarre posters lining the hallways and I relished the chance to point out the Italian poster for Bill Rebane’s The Giant Spider Invasion, or rather, L'invasione dei ragni giganti (1975) to my daughter. That huge spider is pretty sweet. Whenever I’d happen to be assigned the other side, I’d see a much different, but no less evocative poster. It was for an Italian movie I’d never heard of: Argoman the Fantastic Superman (1967).

I was intrigued by the swinging 60’s-style poster art, but could something this garish really live up to such a grandiose image? Movies with budgets both big and small usually employ brilliant artists to paint glorious artwork which barely resembles the finished film, but I’ll give Argoman credit. The film may be rough around the edges and pretty cheap, but most of that poster is accurate, even though the costume in the movie looks like something my mom threw together with about an hour’s notice...and the sexy broad on the lower right isn’t in it...and that weapon she’s holding doesn’t exist...and leading man Roger Browne isn’t anywhere near that ripped...okay yeah, the poster isn’t anything like what the movie promises, but his suit is yellow...so there’s that.

Argoman is what might happen if a sociopathic, borderline rapist, kleptomaniacal, homicidal madman gained the powers of Scott Baio in Zapped! (1982). Often in movies featuring superheroes working outside the law, the government and police are actively working to bring these vigilantes to justice, but we as the audience root for the hero because we know they’re doing what’s best for “the greater good.” In this case, I say arrest this philandering psycho. He accepts, née steals, priceless valuables and artifacts in lieu of payment for his “heroism,” opts to straight-up murder his enemies, and chooses his sexual conquests with impunity, using a literal TV screen to pick out which lucky lady he’ll get to bang this week. The man has no moral scruples whatsoever. To its credit, this was par for the course considering how vicious the protagonists were in the, ahem, “inspirations” Argoman was ripping off: James Bond and the “Diabolik” comic series. Roger Moore may have starred in the most Bond films, but his touch was lighter and funnier. Sean Connery, charming as he may appear onscreen, still had an edge and a lethal quality about him which made him seem dangerous. While Bond utilized gadgets supplied by MI6 genius inventor Q, Argoman’s grab-bag of powers enables him to manipulate and kill with abandon.

There’s a shocking lack of consistency to his superhuman abilities. The one definite is his telekinetic capabilities. He’s got Carrie-level powers but he’s far more bloodthirsty than Stephen King’s tortured protagonist. After that, it gets a little sketchy. Super strength? Check, but occasionally it’s a little vague, like in a scene where he actually struggles a bit with a single guy on a bus, despite the very real opportunity to rip the dude’s arms off. Can he fly? Actually, no, which was a surprise. Considering his outfit, I assumed he could. I’d even assume that using one’s own telekinetic energy could allow for levitation, but nope. He’s apparently got a jet that we never see. Invulnerability? OK, this is a weird one. He’s able to hold his breath for over half-an-hour, but this never really comes into play.

Sometimes he appears impervious to bullets, but then he’ll get a gun pulled on him and seems genuinely concerned. It’s wonky and somewhat inconsistent, but props must be given for the most unique caveat to his powers. To put it both crudely and bluntly, he loses his powers for six hours after he has sex. To be clear, it’s never spelled out, but he obviously needs to “finish” in order for this to happen. What makes his character so frustratingly un-heroic is that when he’s got real superhero duties to attend to, he's fully aware of the consequences, but he’s gotta get his rocks off, so fuck it. I’m gonna bang this groovy chick. It’s stunningly irresponsible.

Unless you’re well-versed in mid-60's Italian exploitation cinema, you may not even be aware that Argoman is a partial spoof of the 1966 superhuman secret agent sci-fi adventure Argoman versus Diabolicus. The tacky design, goofy pyrotechnics and laughable effects tend to work to the film’s advantage because it’s not asking the viewer to take it too seriously. It’s not entirely clear whether the film is being ironic and playing for laughs as the hero does some pretty tasteless and awful things, so the comedy becomes more about the shoddiness of the production rather than the aping of a more popular property. Diabolicus’ popularity led to a 1968 sequel, Superargo and the Faceless Giants, but Argoman remains something of an anomaly. A brazenly obvious parody which could function as a franchise-starter by itself if it wasn’t already following on the heels of the original EuroSpy knockoff.

The opening scene takes place in China, where a troop of soldiers lead Argoman to an empty field in one of the most underwhelming character introductions I’ve ever seen. The eponymous hero is set to be executed by firing squad, but due to his uncanny abilities, he easily dispatches with the Chinese troopers. Does he disarm them by snatching away their rifles with the power of his mind? Nope. He repeats several times: “Kill each other.” In a hilariously bloodless scene, the squad turns their guns on each other and we get one of the most G-rated massacres ever captured on film. The tone of the film is breezy and fun thanks to composer Piero Umiliani’s goofy score. Umiliani’s most lasting legacy is his composition “Mah Na Mah Na,” which was made iconic on The Muppets. The music here implies that we’re in for a grand old time for the whole family, but the amount of sex and Argoman’s nihilistic behavior permeating throughout the film causes the film to flip-flop between a lighthearted romp and a distinctly 'rapey' vibe.

Argoman’s alter-ego, Sir Reginald Hoover, is a millionaire playboy criminologist (aren't they all?) whose American accent is quickly explained away due to the fact that he is not only a British subject but was knighted as well. He pretty much spends his days hanging out at his swanky, ultra-modern seaside villa and forcing his man-servant Shandra (Eduardo Fajardo in some heavy dark makeup, Nightmare City, Django) to time his underwater breathing exercises and make sure his stolen baubles are properly displayed. He counts the Mona Lisa among his collection of ill-gotten goods. He’s always on the hunt for some strange and when a huge hovercraft containing a particularly attractive hottie passes by, he utilizes his psychic powers to turn the boat toward his house and then fucking floats her into his arms. The kidnapper-I mean hero, bets her a necklace and a Rolls Royce that she can’t fire an arrow at a wall target. If she misses, she has to fuck him. What a scumbag. Of course, she misses, which I presume was because he used his power to make her miss, even though I’m surprised the film doesn’t outright show him doing this. It turns out, his latest conquest happens to be his main antagonist and a super-villain hellbent on world domination.

While polite society knows her as the boring-sounding Regina Sullivan, she’s really the dastardly Jenabell (Dominique Boschero, Who Saw Her Die?, Secret Agent Fireball, not to be confused with Secret Agent Super Dragon, obviously). While everyone in the film refers to her as Jenabell, Queen of the World, the ransom note she sends Scotland Yard after stealing the Crown of St. Edward very clearly states that she is “Jesabell, Queen of the Worls.”I don’t even know where to start with this. I can see how the person who shot this insert might have thought it was ‘Jesabell’ since it resembles the word ‘jezebel,’ but how in the fuck did they screw up ‘world?’ It gets even weirder when a random henchman calls her ‘Yenabell.’ What is this? The Witcher? She demands the Muradoff A-4, a big-ass diamond that can refract the sun’s rays and make whatever it reflects upon pliable. What does that mean? It means that she can abscond with world leaders and use the diamond to change her androids' faces to those of the kidnapped diplomats. It’s a suitably wild idea and pretty clever. Jenabell struts around in revealing outfits that become increasingly outrageous as the film progresses, culminating in a silver jumpsuit with metallic Medusa-like hair. Her evil lair is pretty cool, with boxy, unconvincing robots and a seduction room which transforms into a high-tech laboratory complete with flashing lights and huge metal machines. It’s no Ken Adam creation, but it’ll do.

Scotland Yard, headed by the increasingly frazzled Inspector Lawrence (Nino Dal Fabbro, What a Woman!), rush off to Paris, where Jenabell is expected to make her next move. Sir Reginald moonlights as an aide to the cops and takes the latest slice of cheesecake he picked off his video-dating service to Paris as well. Jenabell’s plan is to rob a bank and distribute 300 million francs via banner plane, jacking up the country’s inflation. She’s a smart cookie, I’ll give her that. Of course, Reginald couldn’t resist boning Samantha (Nadia Marlowa), so when he enlists her help to strip down and distract Jenabell’s henchmen, he stows away in their getaway truck but is unable to use his powers. In fact, when they discover the robbery, he still has eighteen minutes to wait, so Samantha suggests they “find a bistro!” Holy shit, lady. Once discovered, they beat the crap out of him until he finally gets his super strength back. He’s either The Green Lantern, The Flash, or just has a very helpful film editor, because he dons his costume in under one second and smashes the bad guys through the walls of the van. None of this matters since Jenabell still gets the money.

Setting up a rendezvous with the gendarmes, Jenabell is shocked to see that Reginald is the representative, so she abandons the plan and Reginald allows himself to be kidnapped. She devises a less-than elaborate trap for Reginald, who turns into Argoman only after getting hot and heavy with Jenabell. He stands on a platform which, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, will lead to deadly consequences if he takes his weight off of it. In this case, an extremely unconvincing robot who terrorizes a kidnapped Samantha will go Chopping Mall on her ass and kill her. I admit, the way it was hovering over her scantily-clad body, I thought something else might happen. Luckily, Argoman’s presumably gotten the “blue balls” treatment from his slinky arch-nemesis, so he uses his power to make the switch, Dr. Jones-style, with a big, ugly gold statue thing. He rescues Samantha from the robot, which shoots him with its ‘magnetic gun’ and appears to hurt him, but not enough to slow him down.

This entire sequence may be the most entertaining of the entire film and is worthy of description. First off, there’s a fancy camera in the bus where the meet-up takes place and Sir Reg has to dress in a nerdy tweed jacket and bowler hat, which he still somehow makes look suave. Her prick henchman must be a fan of Dennis Hopper because the bus is rigged with explosives and could blow up at the press of an adorable button on a handbar. The living room of Jenabell’s lair is psychedelic as all get-out and she shows up in a snake dress that Bjork pretty much copied when she wore that swan dress to the Oscars in 2001. When she lets him know she’s got the Murgdorf, Jenabell claims “It will permeate and destroy your volition.” Whoa. If I knew what any of that meant, I’d be pretty scared.

Later, she dons a bright green Star Wars empire helmet and spouts vaguely sci-fi words like “cosmic gun” and “ray compressor” as she uses a mound of tin foil to do the face-switching. The French Minister, who may or may not be an automaton, reveals himself and pulls a gun on Argoman. It’s truly odd and once he’s disarmed, he jumps out the window. Argoman briefly stops him from dying by making him levitate, but he’s easily distracted and the Minister ends up crashing down to the ground anyways. This makes Argoman a fugitive of the law, which he was anyways, and he goes on the run. The film feels like it was written by a five-year-old thanks to expository dialogue like: “Pity you can see me, Argoman, because I’m working for Jenabel and now I’m going to shoot you.” Earlier, there’s an irresistible clunkiness to a character introduction: “I’m an American Securities Officer.”

Reg goes incognito on a train but a Jenabell henchman is there, dressed as a priest, and he has a friggin’ radio in his bible. He kills the conductors and sets the train en route for disaster. In an impressive stunt, Argoman (or at least his stuntman) runs along the top of a moving train and even drops down to avoid an overhead bridge. I have to say, telekinetic powers really do come in handy since he switches the railing to avoid smashing into another train car.

The film slows down considerably as Reg infiltrates a fancy dinner party to figure out who the androids are. After he seemingly murders the phony dignitaries as Argoman, he rushes off and the police, including Inspector Lawrence and his French partner Inspector Martini (Edoardo Toniolo, The Kiss of Death), corner him in the bushes. These people are shockingly stupid, because Reginald emerges out of costume with his Argoman suit draped over his arm. The inspectors think nothing of this and figure it’s just dull old criminologist Reginald up to his usual shenanigans. What. The. Fuck.

Finally, we get to the final battle and it appears anti-climactic, until we discover that Argoman’s tactic of stabbing Jenabell with a flying ice pick is all for naught since she’s got a bunch of android versions of herself. It’s a smart, budget-friendly way of stretching out the suspense. Jenabell flies off in her plane, Argoman is cleared of any wrongdoings, and he once again pulls a Professor X/Magneto on this bitch by steering the plane into the sun, which causes the Murgdoff to refract and blow it up. I find it hard to believe that the powers-that-be wouldn’t be super pissed at Argoman for allowing a priceless and very important object like that to be destroyed, but they seem more pissed that he steals a police motorcycle. Again, I think if he just tried, he could fly. Just to fuck with the English some more, he steals St. Edward’s crown for himself and throws it on the pile before heading off to lose his powers for six hours along with a few more brain cells.

Director Sergio Grieco (credited as the very English-sounding Terence Hathaway) was a decent, workmanlike director whose credits include Beast with a Gun, The Nights of Lucretia Borgia, and 007 knockoff Special Mission Lady Chaplin, but he’s likely best known for being a screenwriter on the original The Inglorious Bastards. The budget is low, but reportedly not nearly as meager as other productions, so he gets a lot of mileage out of low-fi gadgets and keeps the tone relatively light, if obliviously lascivious. One laugh-out-loud moment occurs when Argoman claims his X-ray vision has been impeded due to “a steel blindfold.” I’d be willing to believe that if it didn’t look incredibly flimsy when it's taken off his face. Writers Dino Verde (Dirty Heroes) and Vincenzo Mannino (Devil Fish) inject some wonderfully unique smoker-based inventions into their script. First off, Jenabell has a bank teller light a cigarette, which sets off a stream of knockout gas. But the real highlight is Argoman’s flat-out insane method of keeping track of his targets. He generously offers cigarettes to pretty much everybody, which have been exposed to radiation. Therefore, he uses the Geiger counter in his watch to track them. I don’t think this movie is aware of how radiation works, but it’s a pretty fabulous asset. Still, his telekinesis takes the cake, and we get some great bits complete with glowing eyes and his willingness to slam an unsuspecting motorist into a bus.

So rarely does a film which features a genuinely horrible person masquerading as a hero achieve such wonderful bad movie nirvana. The film’s sexual politics and pure disregard for human life doesn’t detract from what is an entertainingly ridiculous superhero film.